In case you hadn’t heard, the ‘Q’ suffix in the upcoming AKG N90Q stands for ‘Quincy’. This $1,499 state of the art noise-cancelling closed back headphone was designed in association with legendary producer Quincy Jones – and it’s suggested that it really was ‘in association’. Quincy Jones didn’t just put his name to this headphone, he was central to the inclusion of key aspects of the design.
Unlike other noise cancelling headphones in the AKG range, the N90Q’s active cancelation circuit has no passive option – if the headphones aren’t powered, they aren’t making a sound. But, a part of this comes down to a level of sophistication to the active circuitry inside the headphone. Fortunately, AKG realised that a pair of headphones that potentially run out of juice and turn silent mid-way across the Atlantic might not be a good idea, so the travel case comes with a rechargeable power bar (which, as the N90Q is powered through USB, can also charge a smartphone).
A USB connection isn’t just for charging. The headphones also have an inbuilt USB DAC for HD Audio playback. In this case, ‘HD’ means 24/96 playback. This represents a potentially great pathway opening up for higher-performance listening direct from the computer or smartphone source, without having to rely on either an external DAC/amp or the built in versions inside a phone or PC. Whether using headphone or DAC, the right earcup doubles up as a rotary volume control, while the left acts as a DSP-derived tone control (treble and bass boost). This was one of Quincy Jones key demands, because a purely flat response does not suit every music production.
Harman has been including a ‘stage control’ control in its headphones including JBL models. This is an attempt to remove through DSP the in-head or lateralisation effects of playing music through headphones. There are three spatial modes ‘standard’, ‘2.1 studio’ and ‘5.1 surround sound’. Frankly, I wasn’t convinced by this on JBL models and I’m not entirely convinced here, but that must be tempered by the N90Q being in not the best place for close listening and it being prototype samples, and so on. I also think your perception toward ‘stage control’ depends on both how acclimated you are toward headphone sound, and if your tastes tend toward the purist, or even the puritanical. I know many who think this an excellent inclusion to create a sense of 3D sound in the potentally 2D world between our ears, so try it for yourself.